Jun 192016
 
Computer security is evolving in a time of social media

Following the success of their Hack the Pentagon project, the US Department of Defense is to extend the project across its network.

Run over four weeks earlier this year, the pilot program reportedly generated t138 unique bug reports and paid out $71,200 to hackers.

The company running the pilot, Hacker One, is one of a group of companies organising bounty hunts for the hacking community.

Casey Ellis, the CEO of competing service Bugcrowd, describes his business as being “essential a community of thirty thousand hackers from around the world.”

“The whole idea is to identify where the vulnerabilities are discovered and fixed before the bad guys,” he says. “your guys who you are paying by the hour are plenty smart but they are competing with a crowd of bad guys who think creatively.”

Ellis explained how services like Bugcrowd allow clients like the US Department of Defense to manage the risk and administrative aspects of running a security competition, making it easier for large organisations to run crowdsourced projects like this.

Much has been written about crowdsourcing but it’s commercial fields like security testing where tapping the wisdom of the community really pays off. For some consulting firms, these services could turn out to be real threats.

Jun 092016
 
australian-flag

This is the prepared version of my speech at the Cloud Crowd “Can Innovation Save Australia” debate. I was on the affirmative team, even though in truth I’m probably close to the negative side.

Australia truly is the lucky country. We entered the Twentieth Century as one of the richest countries on earth and at the turn of millennium we remained so.

The first fifteen years of this century have been equally kind, however that prosperity has been built on a mining boom and an ever growing property bubble.

Now those foundations are slipping – the mining boom is over and Australians have became the most indebted people on the planet as housing loans put an increasing burden on Australian families, a situation that is not sustainable.

The three Bs of Australian Business

Making matters worse, the good years of the last three decades have seen Australia’s business community become inward looking and complacent, as one of my colleagues recently wrote Australian managers are obsessed with their “Three Bs” – Bonuses, BMWs and their Balmoral Beach Club memberships.

Australia though has a fine history of invention and innovation, we’ve seen ideas ranging from the stump jump plough and Hills hoist through to the flight data recorder and Cochlear ear implants change the world.

Cochlear itself forms the centre of an Australian hearing technology hub at Macquarie University which brings together university researchers, private sector R&D and some of the world’s best medical specialists to form a globally competitive centre of excellence. We can do great things.

Starting from behind

However we are starting a long way behind the rest of the world. Not only is Silicon Valley speeding ahead but so too are countries as diverse as the UK, Israel and Singapore. One of the understated stories in Australian media is just how heavily China is investing in its pivot into a knowledge and innovation based economy. Others in our region like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Malaysia are already well down the path of moving to economies based on 21st Century technologies.

All of these countries – their governments, their business leaders and the communities – have recognised success in the Twenty-First Century will depend upon investment in education, research, development and businesses that harness the great powers being unleashed by today’s technologies.

This is where Australia’s opportunity also lies. In the 19th and 20th Centuries the country was the beneficiary of technologies like the steam ship, the telegraph, refrigeration, electrification and, at the end of the Twentieth century, the great global financial deregulations. We truly were the lucky country.

Staying lucky

Remaining lucky in the 21st Century is going to take more than riding on the back of sheep, the end of coal train or surfing the wave of easy credit that crashed over our economy in the 25 years after 1990. We are going to have to be smart, canny and adventurous.

Australians though have shown they can grasp opportunities and with government policies that favour innovation over speculation, investment over ticket clipping, a business community that pulls its weight in research and a community that values education at all levels we can do it.

So yes, Innovation can save Australia but we as a nation have to be prepared to work at it and change many of our current ways of thinking.

May 242016
 
Cell phones in use

“We’re in the flip phone era of 5G networks, people don’t realise today’s 4G mobile standards were written for the era of the flip phone,” says John Smee, the Senior Director of Engineering at Qualcomm Research

John was speaking to me at chipset manufacturer Qualcomm’s San Diego head office to discuss the next generation of mobile phone services.

Putting together communications standards isn’t a simple thing, as John says “what we’re discussing now is what today’s five year olds will be using when they turn fifteen.”

John sees the new standard as giving the next generation of internet giants their market opening, pointing out companies such as Facebook and Uber benefitted from the rollout of 4G networks and some of today’s startups will get a similar boost from 5G services. “A few clicks and you’ve ordered a ride. That wouldn’t have been possible without 3G connectivity, high powered smartphones and networks that are scalable.”

“What are going to be some interesting new startups that become huge multibillion dollar industries from 2030,” he asks. “By definition we don’t understand the future.”

For telco executives being a ‘dumb pipe’ is one of their nightmares and John believes they can avoid that fate in a 5G world by concentrating on their advantages with licensed spectrum. “If they are looking a high reliability and low latency services then the quality of the connectivity they can offer becomes essential,” he says.

While the standards groups continue to work on the 5G standards, the technologies continue to evolve. John Smee’s message is that these new products are going to offer opportunities for new companies.

The trick is to figure out which of today’s startup companies will be the Uber or Facebook of 2025.

May 232016
 
Amazon echo

The winner of the upcoming fight over voice technologies will come down to who is the most open and provides the best utility believes Tad Toulis, VP for design at smart speaker manufacturer Sonos.

A struggle is looming between the different voice systems believes Tad Toulis, VP of Design at smart speaker manufacturer Sonos.

We were speaking at Sonos’ Santa Barbara office the day after Google launched its Google Home voice activated hub to compete with Amazon’s and Apple’s Siri systems.

“There’s a little bit of syntax difference with every device we use, so we’re about to re-enter this environment where we have competing formats.” states Toulis, hinting at the days of competing network types operating systems and file types.

For Sonos, that fight between formats is an opportunity believes Toulis. “Sonos was very early into this space, so much so that it’s had a few lives. The original proposition was a way to get people who were into music to have access to their digital music and enliven their home with that music.”

“At a certain point in that arc, that category started to shrink a little bit and streaming started to emerge. Now streaming has become mainstream and we’re facing another cycle.”

Generous systems

Voice though is a social thing and that changes how we interact with devices Toulis believes, “we want to talk out loud in generous way to a generous system.”

“What people want is a supportive, powerful experience that creates good options day to day,” says Toulis. “The technology is fast approaching a tipping point where it’s very human centric.”

“The promise is to figure who can do that in the most natural way so you’re not thinking about the syntax and more about the experience.”

Finding a place at the table

Like most smaller players in the marketplace, Toulis sees Sonos as being a nuetral intermediary between with the various technology empires.

“Sonos offers a place in that conversation. We also approach it in a different way because it’s not one of our businesses, it is our business.”

“I assume we’ll do what we’ve done with the music services. We’ve always believed that we do well when there are many players.”

Winning the voice wars

When asked who is likely to win the voice wars, Toulis is quite rightly guarded, “what I’ve seen over my career in technology is what wins is what works for people, it’s not always the best technologies that win. What wins is the technology value proposition, here’s a need that hasn’t been satisfied and here’s a way of doing it that is sticky.”

“The one that creates the solution with the least resistance will win,” says Toulis. “The best solutions are usually pretty obvious. The problem is you have a bunch of specialists looking at it, they can’t see how obvious it is because they are looking past the target. They’re either very close up.”

While Toulis’ view is attractive, the risk for companies like Sonos is the technology empires find their business models aren’t suited to being open or generous and controlling access to their services is more compelling for their managers and shareholders.

Hopefully open web and data will prove to be the market’s driving forces and certainly Ted Toulis’ and Sonos’ views are what users would prefer, the giants though may not prove to be so generous.

May 212016
 
Sonos_Play_5

Today I had the opportunity to tour the Santa Barbara headquarters of smart speaker manufacturer Sonos. I’ll be writing up a some more detailed accounts of some of the interesting things this fascinating company does.

One thing particularly interesting thing about Sonos is how it was established by four veterans of the original dot com era who had no experience in audio hardware or technology but had a vision of how they would like the stereo system of the future to look like.

That vision hasn’t come without change for the company, the shift to streaming has meant Sonos itself has had to pivot away from its original business model which entailed layoffs for the fast growing company last year.

How Sonos is navigating that shift, along with fostering a culture of openness and innovation is an interesting story that I’ll be telling over the next few weeks. In the meantime, my head is spinning from information overload.

May 172016
 
business return on assets is falling away

Equity crowdsourcing comes late to the Silicon Valley party but could it help the capital starved small business sector?

As of today, equity crowdfunding is now legal in the United States.

The interesting thing is it appears Silicon Valley is shifting away from the VC model that this initiative was intended to promote among smaller investors.

Whether equity crowdfunding can be applied to ventures outside the tech startup industry remains to be seen, it may be in a world where banks have stepped away from their traditional role of providing capital to business that this is the way for proprietors to raise essential funds.

May 052016
 
intel-smart-bike-helmet

As video technology accelerates, the push for augmented and virtual reality applications accelerates. Of the two different technologies, it looks like augmented reality is beginning to get traction in the marketplace.

One example of an augmented reality application is Skulley Systems, a motorbike helmet with a head up display similar to those in fighter jets.

The idea was the result of the company’s founder having a motorbike accident in Barcelona as he was reading a street sign. Dr Marcus Weller wanted to buy a bike helmet that displayed driving information and found there was nothing on the market.

Dr Weller is not alone in his idea of augmented reality devices, Sony have reportedly patented a contact lens that will record the details of your life and play it back to you. It’s just one of many different augmented reality ideas that inventors are proposing although Sony’s appears to be more of defensive patent ploy rather than a real product.

Skulley though doesn’t have the smart motorbike market to itself, last year Intel demonstrated their own motor bike helmet that integrates with the bike’s internal management systems.

The main difference between Sony’s patent and Skulley Systems is the motorcycle helmet is close to reality having been through a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign, then seed and venture capital investment.

What Skulley are showing is the augmented reality applications are close to fruition, partly because ideas like visor displays are clear solutions for today’s problems. We are though only at the beginning of the roll out of both artificial and virtual reality technologies.